BODYTRAFFIC Delivers a Powerhouse Program of Philly Premieres

by Debra Danese for The Dance Journal

BODYTRAFFIC presented one of the most engaging and thought-provoking programs I’ve seen this season. The L.A. based company performed a mixed bill of Philadelphia world premieres as part of the Annenberg Center Live series. Five distinctively different pieces by renowned choreographers, including Ballet-X co-founder, Matthew Neenan, showed the company’s commitment to pushing creative boundaries. The full program showed a fusion of contemporary, ballet, jazz and hip hop-highlighting how dancers today have to be equally skilled and versatile in multiple genres. Gone are the days of mastering just one style of dance.

Fragile Dwellings by Stijn Celis opened the program and was dedicated to the homeless Los Angelinos. Celis built the piece on four solos. Performers Joseph Davis, Natalie Leibert, Jessica Liu, Jamal White each danced with a beautifully haunting quality. Leibert immediately drew my attention with her richly textured movements that alternated between sharp contractions and effortless fluidity. She and Liu were costumed in asymmetrical dresses that accentuated the line of the legs and flowed with the breath of their movement. The piece was performed with strings of light suspended from above. The changes in color and length added a subtle but well produced effect that rounded out the feel of the piece.

The second work, a world premiere by Wewolf, was one of the most memorable dances I’ve seen recently. Innovative and smartly structured, Resolve, was a master class in how to build a piece out of continually moving pictures. The complex duet was danced with perfection by Joseph Davis and Guzmán Rosado. A series of interlocking and interchanging arm movements between the dancers were intricate and interspersed between seamless partner work. The piece had so many quick and clever transitions that I became completely absorbed in the performance.

Neenan’s A Million Voices featured music by the great Peggy Lee. The opening sequence included a striking light design by Burke Wilmore. This ensemble piece was light and engaging with its combination of synchronized dancing and individual break out moments. A series of steps in a circular pattern was effective in its precise execution, as was a stunning pas de deux. Neenan’s “toast’ to Lee’s uplifting music incorporated the dancer’s pouring beverages on each other’s heads, which I didn’t quite get, but added a quirky element to the number.

In sharp contrast was, George & Zalman, by Ohad Naharin. My initial thought at the start of the piece was, “I’m not going to care for this one.” The solo work was a repetition of movements and dialogue- one movement was added and then the sequence repeated from the beginning. I quickly changed my mind as I became absorbed in dancer Tina Finkelman Berkett’s interpretation. She repeated the choreography with the same powerful intensity each time. Her performance was emotional and captivating.

The final number was an ensemble dance by Richard Siegel. o2Joy was an exuberant tribute to jazz standards that blended ballet, jazz and contemporary for an entertaining and technically solid performance by the company. It was an impressive ending to a strong program.

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